What Is a Student Aid Report?

A student aid report or SAR is a document that states if an applicant is qualified and eligible to receive financial aid. The report also summarizes information based on an applicant’s FAFSA. A student aid report can either be a physical or an electronic copy. 

According to a 2021 article published by digital media company U.S. News & World Report, many students take out loans to pay for college. Based on 2019 figures, 65% of graduates had borrowed student loans. The article further argues that government or federal student loans come with better protections when compared to private loans. One major advantage of a federal loan is interest rate. Typically, private loans come with higher interest rates versus federal loans.       

Important Concepts for Understanding Student Aid Reports

To understand the inner workings of a student aid report, it is best to familiarize yourself with important concepts that will frequently come up in the report. Applying for student aid requires a general understanding of some key acronyms.    

FAFSA: FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If you are unsure of where to begin your financial aid journey, a good step would be submitting a FAFSA. It is not only a reasonable option, but a FAFSA is a prerequisite in order to obtain a student aid report or SAR. For a more comprehensive overview, the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Office is a one-stop shop resource center with all kinds of relevant information. EFC: EFC means expected family contribution. A student aid report will normally generate an applicant’s expected family contribution. It is an estimated figure based on the information obtained from the FAFSA. These types of information include several items such as family income, assets, net worth, number of family members, and other factors. The EFC can be a basis for determining how much aid an applicant is entitled to. COA: COA stands for cost of attendance. Students and applicants indicate their chosen or prospective schools in their FAFSA. Cost of attendance is the estimated expense for an academic year of the school you are planning to attend. Like expected family contribution, the COA is another determining factor in financial aid eligibility.

Sources of Financial Aid

Not all parents can afford to send their children to college. Especially these days when the cost of college is climbing even higher, covering even just the basic expenses can be a daily struggle. This goes beyond merely allocating an adequate college budget. Financial aid may be a catalyst for a better quality of life. The examples listed below are some common sources of student aid:

Grants: Academic grants can come from state funding or private organizations. Most colleges and career schools award grants to qualified applicants. Private companies and nonprofit organizations or foundations are also known to sponsor the education of deserving students. This type of financial aid is typically free and does not need to be repaid, unlike student loans. Federal Loans: This type of student loan is awarded by the federal government. Students normally apply for a loan using the process of FAFSA (see above) and the state will then determine if the applicant is eligible for financial aid. The student aid report is an important measure and indicator of what kind of support the applicant may or may not receive. Private Loans: Private institutions such as banks, credit unions, and various state-affiliated agencies may also give out student loans. Compared to federal loans, interest accrual is typically higher. The premise behind these types of loans is that students, once they graduate, are considered the return of investment when they enter the workforce. For instance, a fresh graduate must seek employment in order to repay the bank’s investment in their education. Scholarship: Scholarships can either be full or partial. Total or full scholarships cover the entirety of a student’s college expenses. Academically gifted and high-performing students are usually the recipients of financial aid; but economically challenged applicants are given consideration and priority as well. Scholarships can also be highly specific. For example, a university may grant student aid to a college applicant who excels in a particular area, such as leadership or Chemistry. Work-study Arrangement: It is not uncommon for college students to work part-time jobs in order to fund their education. Some schools and universities give eligible students the option to work and study at the same time. In exchange for quality education, the student would need to clock in work hours either on campus or at an affiliated agency. Special Cases: Student aid can also cater to a particular group of people with a specific criteria. For example, government aid may apply to families of military personnel and/or war veterans. Children of retired military are eligible for financial academic assistance. Eligible international students are also considered and prioritized for various types of aid.

Pros and Cons of Financial Student Aid 

“Free ride to college” is a phrase that, on the surface, is nice to hear. However, like most things, it still has its pros and cons. It’s only a matter of weighing each one in order to reach informed and educated decisions. The examples below are some pros and cons when it comes to financial student aid.     

Higher Education: This, of course, is an obvious one. Rarely can anyone get through college without help. There are all kinds of support and help, not only material ones. But student aid in the form of financial assistance helps lower the costs and lessen expenses. This helps a lot of families send their children to college. It’s no secret that higher education today, more than it has been in previous generations, opens more doors. And even if a degree is not always a guarantee of success and stability, various studies suggest that college graduates earn more than those with just a high school diploma. Less Expenses: Not having to pay for college costs allows you to save more. Academic grants and full scholarships can offer not just free tuition, but it can sometimes cover books, supplies, rent and board, and other education-related expenses. You can focus on your studies and course requirements without needlessly worrying about paying next semester’s fees. Scholarships can either be full or partial; and funded by the federal government or private institutions. If you happen to fall under a certain category, like being a child of the military or a veteran, there are scholarships that are specific to these cases as well. Broader Horizons: Keeping one’s options open matters a lot for many young people these days. And when it comes to choosing a college, many high school seniors have dream schools and top priority universities. A student could be able to attend a good school or even his first choice; which he otherwise could not have afforded or attended without financial aid. In the case of student aid for international study programs or exchange students, the experience would give them greater access to knowledge and broader perspectives through immersion in different cultures abroad. It not only provides students with economic freedom, but it further enriches their overall experience. Pressure and Competition: Many scholarships are merit-based and do not always come with no strings attached. Some foundation scholarships or private donors award students with financial aid on the condition that they are able to maintain a certain grade or average. Scholar-athletes are sometimes subject to similar situations. In order to keep their scholarship, they need to do well academically or at the very least, achieve passable marks. In other cases, private institutions give scholarships to deserving students but the former has a hand in deciding what course or units the student will take in college. Finally, because attending a good college is a prized opportunity, the competition for student aid can be quite fierce. Many students apply for financial aid and unfortunately, not everyone is accommodated. Comes with a Price: In the case of student loans, you are able to afford college because you take out a loan. Obviously, the nature of loans is that it needs to be paid back. Loans can come from the government or from different institutions in the public sector. But as with all debt, it is subject to interest rates. Interest can pile up and the amount owed can balloon to figures even greater than the original loan. Many students find themselves struggling to pay off their loan and some end up deferring. So even after getting a degree, the person would still need to find ways to repay the debt. But what happens if your job is low-paying and you are unable to pay it off immediately? In some cases, it takes years just to pay off a student loan, even long after you’ve graduated. It can be disheartening when you are constantly burdened by that nagging feeling of debt that’s hounding you throughout your life.

How to Create a Student Aid Report

A student aid report is typically generated online. Sample templates are also readily available above for your convenience. And whether you are an applicant, federal, or academic personnel, it’s essential to be acquainted with the different parts of a student aid report. Keep in mind the important steps below:   

Step 1: Basic Info

A student aid report includes a title and the school year. Basic details such as the applicant’s full name and complete address, and the expected family contribution or EFC are clearly indicated on the form. Similar to a formal letter, the date should always be included. Some student aid reports also open with a salutation (e.g., Dear Student’s Name).  

Step 2: Application Status

The application status basically informs the student whether or not the application was successful or not. This section contains comments or remarks not only regarding the student’s eligibility, but also about the schools they applied to. It may also state whether the applicant has completed or is lacking in his or her requirements, based on the FAFSA. For example, a student will be able to find out if she is eligible for the Pell Grant in the application status section of the report.    

Step 3: FAFSA Information 

Again, the student aid report or SAR is based on the FAFSA form submitted by the applicant. In the succeeding pages of a student aid report, the applicant’s information is inputted and summarized. The information can be pretty comprehensive and it covers several aspects such as personal and family contact details, marital status, dependents, social security and driver’s license numbers, net worth, and all other financial information.  

Step 4: Next Steps

This section may either precede or come after the summary of FAFSA information. The applicant is duly informed of any next steps he or she must take. Students may be asked to review, modify, correct, or apply the necessary changes in their application. The federal student aid process is usually electronic, so the SAR may indicate instructions on how to log in or navigate the website in order view the status, make corrections, etc.   


Are FAFSA and student aid report the same?

A student needs to fill out a FAFSA in order to obtain a student aid report. The two documents are related but are not the same thing. A student aid report summarizes the information submitted on a FAFSA form.

How do I read my SAR report?

According to Forbes, you can view your student aid report online using your Federal Student Aid ID on FAFSA.gov. It is important to know the different terms and concepts that will appear on the report. Be sure you have a basic understanding of expected family contribution (EFC), data release number (DRN), cost of attendance (COA), and the verification selection process.

Why is the Student Aid Report important?

It is important that you provide accurate information on your FAFSA because it will greatly affect your student aid report. If you are applying for financial aid to go to college, the student aid report is essential because your eligibility is measured and based on what the report surmises. The financial aid benefits that colleges and universities give are directly related to the student aid report.

What does the student aid report tell you?

The student aid report informs you if you are eligible to receive financial aid. This is calculated and decided by the U.S. Department of Education when it generates your student aid report. You can obtain this report by filing a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The student aid report contains key information including expected family contribution (EFC), data release number (DRN), application status, etc.

Despite the technicalities of a FAFSA or SAR form, it is a worthwhile shot especially when one’s education is on the line. In today’s fast-paced and hyper competitive economy, higher education should be made accessible and inclusive for all. Sadly, the current situation is far from ideal. So it goes without saying that financial aid can serve as a lifeline for a lot of deserving and eligible students. Browse a variety of student aid report templates above and download a sample now!